In several of his books, including Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis andOn Dreams, Freud combines the topics of forgetting a proper name and dreamanalysis, formulating a thesis that helps to clarify his theories on both. Hedescribes in psychoanalytic terms the mechanisms behind forgetting of a propername and how they relate to the methods used in dream analysis.
By looking atthe two topics from a joint perspective, we can gain a greater understanding ofthem and how they relate to other areas of psychoanalysis. The tendency towardforgetting of a proper name is an important theme in Freuds work. Heexplained the way in which forgetting something like a name was actually asubstitute for forgetting something that, unconsciously, an individual does notwish to remember. He described the unconscious force that prompted thisforgetfulness as a “counter-will”, or an unconscious desire parallel to anindividuals conscious desire. According to Freud, there is a connectionbetween what one consciously forgets and what one unconsciously wants to forget.When a person has some unpleasant thought or issue that they wish to banish fromtheir mind, the will to forget may “miss its target”, and the wish to forgetmay manifest itself in some other way.
In this case the individual may forgetsomething seemingly unconnected to the thought they wish to banish, such as aproper name. Freud gives some relevant examples of this phenomenon inIntroductory Lectures: “For instance, if we have temporarily forgotten a name,we are annoyed about it, do all we can to remember it and cannot leave thebusiness alone. Why in such cases do we so extremely seldom succeed in directingour attention, as we are after all anxious to do, to the word which (as we say)is on the tip of our tongue and which we recognize at once when we aretold it? Or again: there are cases in which the parapraxes multiply, formchains, and replace one another…” (ILp 35-36) It is in this line thatunderstanding the preconscious becomes important. “Preconscious” describes adivision of the mind that falls in between repression (unconscious) andrecognition (conscious).
Freud described thoughts in the preconscious as havingcrossed the threshold from the unconscious mind, but not yet having caught theeye of consciousness (IL p366). The preconscious is an important element in thedynamic between an individuals conscious intention and their counter-will,because it falls somewhere in the middle and may be the most manifested part ofthe phenomenon. For instance, when a proper name is forgotten, this is afunction of repression. The individual unconsciously wants to forget one thing,but the counter-will resists by forgetting another. It is when a name is “onthe tip of the tongue” but still unclear that countless other irrelevant nameswill come to mind; these irrelevant names are the inhabitants of thepreconscious. The case detailed in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, inwhich Freud discusses his own experience with the forgetting of a proper name,is a good example of a clear analysis of the mechanism Freud saw behind thisphenomenon. He explains the situation, and will later go on to fully analyze itssignificance: ” The name that I tried without success to recall in the exampleI chose for analysis in 1898 was that of the artist who painted the magnificentfrescoes of the Four Last Things in Orvieto Cathedral.
Instead of the nameI was looking for Signorelli the names of two other painters Botticelli and Boltrafio thrust themselves at me, though they wereimmediately and decisively rejected by my judgment as incorrect. When I learnthe correct name from someone else, I recognized it at once and withouthesitation (PEL p2). When he tries to remember the forgotten name, and laterremembers it and brings it back to his consciousness, he plunges into a maze ofexplanations of how and why the particular substitutions occurred.
This is whereI find Freud to be stretching the limits of reasonable deduction; it is myopinion that the chart he included in Psychopathology of Everyday Life isunconvincing at best. The chart, however, manages to lead him from thesubstituted name to the source of the repressed material. Whether the chart andits analysis was superfluous to this discovery or not is something of which I amnot convinced.
The way he uses the first few letters of his mixed up words torelate them to each other and tie everything together seemed too orderly andsimplified to be the product of something as willful as the unconscious mind,but it did seem to work in validating his points on the issue. Comparing andcontrasting the phenomenon of forgetting proper names and all that it entailswith the practice of dream-analysis is challenging and adds another dimension toour understanding of both. Though study of both is focused on a part of the mindother than the conscious thoughts, there is a distinction between the rolesplayed by the unconscious and the preconscious in these phenomena. In dreamanalysis, the dream-thoughts are recognized as unconscious material, waiting inthe unconscious mind to be revealed to the dreamer in sleep. Much of thismaterial could not be recognized by the individual in any form other than adream, either because it is repressed or it has not yet reached the consciouslevel of recognition. In forgetting of a proper name, however, the answer seemsto be “on the tip of the tongue”, or just out of reach of the consciousmind. In this case both the material that is forgotten and the material that thememory substitutes is found in the preconscious mind, the state in betweenconscious and unconscious thought.
The significant tie between these two realmsof thought can be found in hypnosis. In a hypnotic state induced by suggestion,and individual is made able to access both preconscious and unconsciousthoughts, and to express them while not asleep. This is a valuable tool both forthe psychoanalyst and for the patient; in a hypnotic state the patient hasaccess to unconscious material that otherwise would be difficult to uncover andinterpret. Understanding of the areas of forgetting a proper name and the dreamwork is essential to understanding much of Freuds work, and comparing andcontrasting the two can help us gain an extra dimension of insight into both.
The tremendous impact of Freuds work, both culturally and clinically, isinescapable in American society. It is for this reason that it is so relevantfor us to study it today.